For many, it would be difficult to argue against the integral role that culture plays in their lives. On October 11th, 2017, LaGuardia Community College invited students and faculty to celebrate Latinx culture by hosting “Born in the Bronx: Hispanic Heritage Celebration.” The event consisted mainly interviews with two men who are undoubtedly familiar […]
The engaging feature film They Were Promised the Sea, about the Berber Jews’s movement to a newly created Jewish state, directed by Canadian filmmaker Kathy Wazana in 2012, was shown at LAGCC’s NY Forum of Amazigh Film on May 4, 2017.
In her introduction prior to the screening of the film, ELA Professor Habiba Boumlik, the Forum’s co-curator, described it as “an intimate road movie that was shot in Morocco, Israel-Palestine, and New York that followed Wazana as she sought to understand the mass emigration of Moroccan Jews from Morocco to Israel in the 1960s.”
The guest speaker, Bruce Maddy-Weitzman of Tel Aviv University, explained how 300,000 Jews lived scattered in countries of North Africa such as Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria among a few others, but primarily in Morocco.
Most Moroccan Jews are referred to as Berber Jews. The Berber culture and dialect come from indigenous people of North Africa that influenced Jews who settled in that region of Morocco. Berbers—a designation meaning barbarians assigned by Romans in ancient times—used to be Christians before their conversion to Islam in the 7th Century.
The partition of Palestine was first created in 1948. Yet, when the Israeli-Arab War finished in 1956 and Palestine was divided, all Jews were pressured to move to their new homeland—the Jewish State. Berber Jews resisted the move.
Jews and Muslims in Morocco interacted and collaborated with one another to a large extent, while ignoring mutual differences. They even created music together and never seemed to have acknowledged any obstacles.
Berber Jews spoke in dialect as they created a neighborhood called by local residents “Little Jerusalem.” “They were happy and lived in harmony with their Muslim countrymen.
There is an unanswered question, according to Maddy-Weitzman: Did Berbers convert to Judaism or did Jews simply become a part of the Berber community? “Scratch a Berber to find a Jew,” he added, offering an old saying from Morocco.
“Even though I was born in Israel,” Ms. Wazana said in the film, “I feel like a Moroccan woman.” She also stated that on her journey she found the answers to the questions of what might have happened, but she didn’t find all the facts she hoped for.
There are some claims that Jews were traded for wheat in 1961, at a time of famine in Morocco, which sparked the emigration of Jews to Israel. But Jews do not agree with Israel’s young history of emigration. They choose to believe in the legend that the actual movement started 2500 years ago.
When the Israeli-Arab War was over, Israel started sending buses to bring Jews from other countries. They knew that Jews who lived in the prosperous countries of Western Europe and North America would not leave. That is why they concentrated on countries such as Morocco.
Berber Jews expressed that even though they were happy in Morocco, they never felt at peace amidst that North African country’s unstable political climate. And the Torah, with its prophecies, played a crucial role in their decision to leave.
Israel tricked Moroccan Jews. The Israeli government implied that they would move them to Jerusalem where they would enjoy a lifestyle of the modern metropolis. But instead, the Moroccan Jews were placed in all other places of Israel except Jerusalem.
Israel’s capital was a promised land for European emigrants. The Israeli government knew that only Moroccan Jews would be able to adapt to anArab lifestyle in the rural settings of Israel. Therefore, Jews who were used to living and interacting with Arab people were placed in deserts and near the borders of neighboring Arab countries with Israel.
“Many Israeli patriotic songs were advertised and called Jews to return home,” Ms. Wazana said at one point in her important film while reminiscing about her parents, who suffered a regretful destiny of false promises.
Most didn’t realize that Zionism in Israel was really Polish Zionism. is means that instead of a gradual movement of Jews to Israel, the Israeli government ordered the bus drivers to systematically relocate Moroccan Jews to towns and villages in Israel, usually in the middle of the night, without any chance to protest or even to realize what was happening. “We came, we took,” Ms. Wazana added, reflecting on the ideology of Polish Zionism.
Ms. Wazana’s visit to her parents’ synagogue in Morocco encompassed the whole experience of her journey. She imagined all those Jews who lived for many ages in Essaouira, a city they called home, now Morocco’s hip town by the coast.
She imagined their sadness and apprehension. She burst into tears. “I don’t feel like fully belonging to either country,” Ms. Wazana sighed at the end, while gazing from a boat onto the Moroccan sea.
“There were almost 100,000 Jews in Morocco alone by mid 20th century. ere are only a few thousand left today,” Professor Maddy-Weitzman said.